Goal Setting Tips

I like goals.  I like having a direction to focus on and pursue.  If you’re thinking about your own goals this year, I’d like to offer a few tips.  If you’re not, now is as good of a time as any to start.

Goal Setting Tips

1) Start with review

I’ve written before about the importance of looking back, but it bears repeating: you can’t know where you are, or where you want to go, unless you know how you’ve gotten to where you are.  The best way to think about any changes that you may want to make in your life is in the context of the life you’ve lived thus far.

To help with this process, I recommend doing an annual review.  It doesn’t have to be done at the start of a year.  It can be done any time that you’re making a change.

The review process is important because it helps give context and story to the goals you set.  It helps you articulate why your want the things you want.  Without the context of your life and your process, your goals can lack the substance you need to really stick to them out.

Follow my free guide if you’d like some help, or make it up as you go

2) Choose identity based goals

While it’s tempting to jump right into thinking of how you want to implement your goals— what you want to actually do— it’s best to start even bigger: who you want to become.

The most effective goals are identity based.

What we do flows out of and follows who we are.  The best way to change what we do is to begin by changing the way that we think about ourselves.  Instead of attempting to change our behavior on it’s own, we’re trying to become the kinds of people who do those kinds of behavior.

Let me show you what I mean: let’s say that you want to get in shape, but instead of working out, you like to snack and watch netflix in the evenings.  It’s hard to change your behavior and work out at night when the story you tell yourself is that you’re the kind of person who needs to “unwind with netflix and snacks”.  Or worse, the story you might be telling yourself is that you’re “lazy”, “unmotivated”, or that you “just can’t ever seem to do that”.

Instead, try on a new identity. 

Change the way you think about yourself.  What if you start to think of yourself as a yogi, runner, weight lifter, fitness buff, gym rat, cross fitter, or whatever type of exercise you prefer?

This takes the dissonance out of your activity. 

Instead of being someone who is “lazy” trying to exercise.  You’re a runner going on a run.

The formula is simple.  Try it for yourself:

Instead of ___[ACTIVITY]____, become ______[THE KIND IDENTITY ASSOCIATED WITH THAT ACTIVITY]______ .

For example:

– Instead of writing a book, become a writer.

– Instead of starting a business, become an entrepreneur.

– Instead of traveling outside the country for the first time, become a  traveler.

– Instead of getting out of debt, become a frugal saver.

– Instead of learning to code, become a developer.

3) Connect the Identity Goal with Quantifiable Activity

This is the piece that has been a game changer for me.  You can’t just change your identity and expect everything to fall into place.  You have to take action.  But not just any action.  It must: 1) be the right action that will move you toward your goals, and 2) measurable and quantifiable.

I decided this year that I want to get into running.  I’ve flirted with running since 2005— when I ran a marathon.  I wasn’t a runner before and haven’t been one since.  Running has always been something I did very causally— only when I felt like it (which was rarely) and never enough to see significant results.

Instead, in 2018 I decided to become a runner.  I wanted to get more in shape and feel capable in my body.  I had some health issues a few years ago that really scared me.  After a long recovery period, I was ready to see what I could do with my body.

So in order to achieve my goal, I decided to run 365 miles in 2018.

To runners, 365 miles in 365 days is not very significant.  I know runners who log 100 miles a month.  I just learned that a friend of mine did 2018 miles in 2018.  That’s a serious goal and some serious miles!

But to a non-runner (as I was),  365 miles was a long way to go.

What this commitment did for me was to give me a very quantifiable way to measure my progress and see if I’m achieving the goal.

In order to make changes that are sustainable, they must be measurable.  The more you can connect your goal to quantifiable action, the more noticeable progress you’ll see toward your goals.

4) Make it a Habit

Finally, big goals need consistent effort.  They need the kind of work that keeps the goal in the front in your mind and attention daily and the kind of activity that keeps you working on it at least a few times per week.

This is why running 365 miles worked for me.  The only way I’d be able to accomplish it is through consistent effort— by making it as much of a habit as possible.

What Can Go Wrong With Goals

The primary way goals get abandoned is when they’re not made to be part of your weekly life.  Failed goals are either poorly chosen (they don’t fit who you are right now — see the first step about identity above), or an effective plan was never made.

I’d love to hear from you which of the steps above are most challenging and what goals you are considering and/or already pursuing.  Comment below!

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17 Comments

  1. Bernadine Farthing-McLean December 31, 2018 at 12:16 am

    I usually didn’t make any resolutions as none came to fruition however setting goals that is different and maybe I should quantify my goals never thought of that but to be an expert in something you have to spend 10000 hours to become one maybe that is the quantifiable measurement to use. Thanks it now makes sense

    Reply
    1. Dan December 31, 2018 at 4:40 pm

      I like this Bernadine! What are you becoming an expert in?

      Reply
  2. Todd Watson December 31, 2018 at 10:26 am

    Good practical advice!

    Reply
  3. Ashley December 31, 2018 at 10:30 am

    My goal is to publish at least 3 books in 2019. Well, it’s one of my goals. I was never any good with the follow-through whenever I had goals. I didn’t go after them or have a plan. In 2018, I called myself a writer and started taking it seriously again. Then I called myself an author and set a goal to publish 1 book. I published 3. So, I completely agree that changing your identity and how you view yourself with alter your mindset to get things done.

    Reply
    1. Dan Cumberland December 31, 2018 at 5:19 pm

      I’m very impressed with your productivity Ashley! Way to go. I love how you’ve seen the identity piece play out in your life and work. Thanks for sharing!

      Reply
  4. Luiza December 31, 2018 at 11:56 am

    Hello,

    Thank you for your article.

    Some goals came out easy for me, like being a traveler.
    Being a frugal saver is already a habit:)
    But the serious ones … require hard work.

    I guess that the effective plan, step by step was never one of my favourites:)
    So the quantifiable activity is the most challenging thing for me.
    My goal is becoming a coach:)

    Reply
    1. Dan Cumberland December 31, 2018 at 5:22 pm

      Hi Luiza!
      Some goals are easier to quantify than others. I’d suggest you break down your goal of becoming a coach into a few smaller goals that can then be broken into quantifiable steps. For example: if you’re hoping to becoming a professional life coach, some goals that might help are things like: 10 networking coffee-meetups a month, getting certified, launching a website, etc.
      You can do it!

      Reply
  5. Houcine Haj Messaoud January 1, 2019 at 5:13 am

    Thank you very much for this insightful article.
    I much appreciate the second point “Choose identity-based goals”, I agree it’s very important and it’s very motivating. In the other side, I don’t agree with the idea of “starting even bigger”.The problem could occur when you don’t reach what you have planned, it could affect your subconscious. I think it’s very important to set reasonable and challenging, but reachable goals.
    My deep Thanks

    Reply
    1. Dan January 3, 2019 at 1:34 pm

      Hi Houcine,
      Love your comments here. My comment about thinking bigger is really about looking beneath the goals for the motivation and bigger picture trajectory that you’re on.

      That said, I also believe in going big with goals. A goal is a direction as much as it is a target. And a big goal that may be out of reach for some might take them further in their pursuit than one that’s easily achievable.

      Maybe that’s not your preferred method, and that’s ok too 🙂

      Reply
  6. Kelvin H Mwiinga January 15, 2019 at 7:55 am

    Hi Everyone,
    “A journey of a thousand miles starts with one step” Mao , just as in building, there should be an elaborate plan even though you start build by laying a block at a time until the building takes shape. Holistic view or immediate view as long as there is consistency and direction, amount of effort depends on your ability. Dan you are inspirational please keep up the good works.

    Reply
    1. Dan January 15, 2019 at 11:53 am

      Thanks so much Kelvin!

      Reply
  7. Kingsley February 7, 2019 at 6:13 am

    Awesome write up… I think this is what i need right now. Never been a fan of goal setting but the little i have tried proved to me that it works. At least it makes me feel a sense of being responsible for an action i need to do to attain or get something i want. Thanks once again especially for the Identity based goals advice.

    Reply
    1. Dan February 7, 2019 at 4:33 pm

      Thanks Kingsley! I appreciate it! Good luck and let me know how the goals go for you 🙂

      Reply
  8. Kyle April 19, 2019 at 3:02 pm

    Hey, Dan,

    Thanks so much for this bog post. As I’m processing through it I’m currently sitting in a Starbucks on a short vacation in Little Rock. I was journaling before I turned to your blog and I was journaling about the kind of person I’d like to become and how I might go about doing that. I’m challenging myself for the next 21 days to have a more intentional morning routine. That includes setting a wake up time just before sunrise for each day, praying/meditating for 15 minutes with slow breathing, and writing down goals.

    I felt very blessed that the bookmark I had for your blog took me to this post as it aligned with so much of my journaling for today and the overall attention of this past season of my life. I do plan to use the annual review when I get home and I’m looking forward to it.

    One of my goals this year is to become a more intentional person and I now I am going to identify myself as a goal-setter. My goal is to actually write down my goals each morning to remind me of what I’m pursuing each day.

    Peace,

    Kyle

    Reply
    1. Dan April 26, 2019 at 1:33 pm

      Hi Kyle!
      Thanks for this great note. I’m curious how your challenge is going? Way to go after something! And I’m so happy to hear that this post was helpful!

      Reply
  9. Umaid Ali June 8, 2019 at 9:19 am

    Thank you very much for this amazing and insightful article. …

    Reply

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